Founded in 1937, Pittsburgh Corning made Unibestos insulation with asbestos for decades. Owens Corning acquired the company in 2017. Thousands of lawsuits over asbestos exposure and illnesses led to bankruptcy in 2000 and reorganization in 2011.
Pittsburgh Corning History and Asbestos
Pittsburgh Corning was formed in 1937 with the merger of two glassmakers, Corning Glass Works and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. The new company initially focused on manufacturing glass blocks for use in a variety of installations, including residential, commercial, and industrial buildings.
- By 1947, Pittsburgh Corning shifted focus and started manufacturing cellular glass insulation called FOAMGLAS. FOAMGLAS is an insulation largely used in construction. Unlike other types of insulation at the time, FOAMGLAS did not contain asbestos.
- In 1962, the company acquired a product line from UNARCO Industries Inc, called Unibestos. Unibestos was a line of asbestos-containing insulation products that included pipe insulation and block insulation.
- The asbestos used in these products was imported from South Africa and arrived in a particularly harmful form. This asbestos was broken into fibers that had an increased potential to harm human health.
- Between 1962 and 1972, Pittsburgh Corning largely manufactured Unibestos insulation in a former UNARCO plant in Tyler, Texas. It also expanded Unibestos’ production to include a manufacturing plant in Alleghany, Pennsylvania.
- The company hired consultants to monitor these facilities and learned that workers were being exposed to dangerous asbestos. Despite this information, the company did not take adequate steps to improve safety. The company closed the Tyler plant in 1972 and stopped making the insulation.
- As early as the 1970s, Pittsburgh Corning began facing lawsuits over asbestos exposure. This included an early class action lawsuit involving hundreds of workers at the Tyler plant.
- Pittsburgh Corning filed for bankruptcy in 2000, not emerging until 2013 with an asbestos trust established in 2013.
Today, Pittsburgh Corning is still in operation as a subsidiary of Owens Corning, which bought it in 2017. In spite of the acquisition, Owens Corning is not liable for the asbestos claims. They go through the Pittsburgh Corning asbestos trust.
Pittsburgh Corning Asbestos Products
Pittsburgh Corning made glass blocks and a unique kind of insulation made from glass in its early years. Until it bought the Unibestos product line and brand, the company never used asbestos.
It purchased not just the name and product types but all the plants and materials that UNARCO had used to make its asbestos products.
Pittsburgh Corning continued doing what UNARCO had done, producing a wide range of products with asbestos:
- Unarco insulating cement
- Unibestos block insulation
- Unibestos pipe covering
- Braided rod packing
- Gasoline packing
- Foamglas building insulation
- Insubestos felt insulation
- High-pressure packing
Pipe covering and pipe insulation were the primary Unibestos products made with asbestos. These were used to insulate pipes that carried high-temperature fluids or gases in various industries.
Workers at Risk of Asbestos Exposure From Pittsburgh Corning and Unibestos
Asbestos was used in Unibestos products from 1962 until the Tyler plant was dismantled ten years later. This mineral seemed a perfect choice because it naturally resists heat, cold, fire, and chemicals. It is also durable and can be molded into a variety of shapes.
These properties made it useful for shaped insulation, like pipe or block insulation. Unfortunately, asbestos fibers are easily ingested and inhaled by those near them, and exposure is hazardous.
The asbestos that Pittsburgh Corning imported was potentially more harmful than other types. This was because it was broken down at the mining site, making it more vulnerable to shedding fibers. Once American workers handled this asbestos, the fibers were loose and could easily become airborne.
Even when workers used respirators, the asbestos was so dusty that they clogged easily and stopped working.
Workers in the Tyler and Alleghany plants were at particular risk of asbestos exposure. For many employees, this led to asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
People who worked in other industries were also at risk of harmful exposure:
- Construction workers
- Insulation workers
- Boiler workers
- Industrial workers
- Power plant workers
- Maintenance and repair workers
Another way people were exposed to these products was through secondhand exposure. Workers often carried asbestos fibers home on clothing and in their hair without knowing the risks.
This introduced asbestos into the home and caused exposure in family members. Many of the wives and children of workers who handled asbestos insulation later developed mesothelioma.
Asbestos Lawsuits Against Pittsburgh Corning
Pittsburgh Corning faced many lawsuits over asbestos exposure. These eventually led to the company filing for bankruptcy. Many of the claims originated with workers at the Tyler plant making Unibestos insulation.
Early Asbestos Lawsuit Over Unibestos
In 1977, Pittsburgh Corning faced one of the earliest class-action lawsuits over asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses. Nearly 500 former employees who worked at the Tyler plant filed the lawsuit. This was the plant that manufactured Unibestos asbestos insulation materials from 1962 to 1972.
The Tyler plant lacked proper safety measures with respect to asbestos exposure. Hundreds of workers were at risk of exposure to toxic dust in the facility. In 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company just $210 for poor dust control at the plant.
The plaintiffs in the case ultimately settled out of court for $20 million. Pittsburgh Corning was responsible for $8.1 million. Other defendants paid the remainder.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Pittsburgh Corning also saw individual suits filed by workers for other companies and widows of workers who passed away from asbestos illnesses.
One widow, Helen Simpson, won $2.3 million from Pittsburgh Corning after her husband died from mesothelioma. He had worked with Unibestos pipe insulation during his career.
Another plaintiff, Robert Dunham, worked for Pittsburgh Corning, handling asbestos the company used to make products. Dunham died from lung cancer before his case was finished; however, his widow won $19.3 million in a Texas court. The award included both punitive damages and compensatory damages.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust
Because Unibestos was manufactured with asbestos long before Pittsburgh Corning acquired the product line in 1962, the company faced liability charges beginning in the 1970s.
As these lawsuits accumulated, they cost the company millions of dollars. As a result, Pittsburgh Corning struggled to stay afloat. By 2000, Pittsburgh Corning filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to reorganize. It took more than a decade to reorganize successfully.
Part of the reorganization plan included the creation of an asbestos trust called the Pittsburgh Corning Corporation Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust. It opened in 2013 with over $3 billion in funding.
The current payment percentage for the Pittsburgh Corning Asbestos Trust is 24.5% for both expedited and individual claim reviews.
If You Were Exposed to Pittsburgh Corning Asbestos Products
If you believe Unibestos products impacted you, you can work with an experienced lawyer to make a claim. Asbestos lawyers will go over your case for free to determine if you are eligible to make a claim for compensation with the Pittsburgh Corning trust.
They can also find any other companies responsible for your asbestos exposure. You could be eligible for other asbestos trusts or to file a lawsuit against additional companies. Don’t wait to act. There are statutes of limitations that put a time limit on when you can file to seek damages.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.